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Market View

The trends were clear early on, but 2015 still took some unexpected turns, particularly with regard to the intensity of the decline in oil prices.

In the December 29, 2014, Market View, we surveyed the investing landscape for the year ahead and examined the possibilities for key asset classes. Among our observations for 2015:

  • Against the backdrop of a slowly improving U.S. economy, growth stocks were expected to outperform value, while the broader U.S. equity market seemed poised to continue its ascent, although with less vigor, and a correction seemed likely along the way. Valuations appeared reasonable, if not overly attractive. Corporate earnings were expected to continue to grow at a decent pace.
  • On the bond side, shorter duration, less interest-rate sensitive, and lower-quality fixed-income assets, including high-yield bonds, were expected to hold up fairly well if the U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) hiked interest rates in 2015, as was anticipated by midyear. Demand for municipal bonds was expected to be strong, given muni’s attractive taxable-equivalent yields, even as new issue supply remained relatively high.
  • International stocks, we believed, would continue to struggle with weak economic growth prospects at home and a stiff headwind from a strong U.S. dollar, but with accommodative central bank policies in the eurozone, Japan, and China, we also saw the potential for better returns. A cautionary flag was raised for emerging markets, particularly currencies, as a slowdown in China and falling commodity prices threatened some, if not all, of the developing nations’ prospects for growth.  

Looking back at 2015 from the last week of December, how did it all play out? (Chart 1 displays the performance of a range of asset classes.)

 

Chart 1: 2015 Was a Year of Clearly Defined Winners and Losers
Total returns (%) for selected asset classes, December 31, 2014-December 31, 2015

Source: Morningstar. Data as of December 31, 2015.
The investment categories listed in this chart are represented by the following indexes: Emerging Market Stocks, MSCI Emerging Market USD Index; Agricultural Commodities, S&P GSCI Agricultural Index; Gold & Silver, S&P GSCI Precious Metals Index; Small Cap Stocks, Russell 2000 Index; High-Yield Bonds, BofA Merrill Lynch U.S. High Yield Master II Constrained Index; Value Stocks, Russell 3000 Value Index; Convertible Bonds, BofA Merrill Lynch All Convertibles, All Qualities Index; International Stocks, MSCI EAFE Index; U.S. TIPS (Treasury Inflation Protected Securities), Barclays Capital U.S. Treasury TIPS Index; Large Cap Stocks, S&P 500 Index; Floating Rate Loans, Credit Suisse Leveraged Loan Index; Short-Term Corporate Bonds, BofA Merrill Lynch 1-3 year ‘BBB’ U.S. Corporate Index; EM Bonds (Emerging Market Corporate Bonds), JPMorgan CEMBI Broad Diversified Index; Barclays Agg. (Core Bonds), Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index; 10-Year Treasuries, BofA Merrill Lynch U.S Treasury Current 10-Year Index; Municipal Bonds, Barclays Capital Municipal Index; Growth Stocks, Russell 3000 Growth Index.

Past performance is not a reliable indicator or a guarantee of future results.
The historical data are for illustrative purposes only, do not represent the performance of any specific portfolio managed by Lord Abbett or any particular investment, and are not intended to predict or depict future results.
Indexes are unmanaged, do not reflect deduction of fees and expenses and are not available for direct investment.

 

Some developments were just about as expected. The U.S. economy continued to post stronger growth than the rest of the world. U.S. growth stocks were the star performers of the year. U.S. large-cap stocks (as represented by the S&P 500® Index) also held their own, although performance of the index as a whole was hurt by losses in commodity-related industries, particularly the energy sector.

The slowing pace of growth in China affected economies in the emerging markets, as expected, and weakened their currencies.

Municipal bonds were the strong performers in the bond market in 2015, with the notable exception of Puerto Rican bonds, which suffered for most of the year from fears of default. Emerging market corporate bonds, a largely investment-grade sector, also turned in a respectable performance, as did U.S. short-duration corporate bonds, although, after accounting for inflation, the single bond sector left standing in positive territory was municipal bonds.

The Market View script for 2015 did take some unexpected turns, however, particularly in terms of the intensity of a key trend already in play. The sharp decline in oil prices, with the benchmark West Texas Intermediate dropping to a multiyear low of less than $36 per barrel at one point in December, surprised many. Commodity prices, in general, had been falling throughout 2014, but few anticipated the extent of the continuing decline throughout 2015 or the resulting profit recession (defined as two or more successive quarters of decline) in energy-related sectors. Poor performance in the energy sector negatively affected the high-yield bond market, which also succumbed late in 2015 in reaction to news that a Third Avenue Management high-yield fund heavily weighted in distressed debt (‘CCC’ rated or lower) had ceased redemptions.

Expectations for a rate hike were also disappointed over and over again in 2015 until December 16, when a unanimous Federal Open Market Committee, the policy-making arm of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board (Fed), finally voted to raise its targeted fed funds range to 0.25–0.50%, after seven years of near-zero rates.  

Regular readers of Market View will already have noted our published insights into the markets for 2016, including our outlook for equities and fixed income. Of course, we cannot guarantee that our expectations for the new year will play out exactly as we have outlined them in these columns. But as active managers, Lord Abbett will continue to look for select investment opportunities no matter the general direction of the markets, and with a long-term perspective in mind.

 

MARKET VIEW PDFs


  Market View
  U.S. Market Monitor

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